At this time of year, with the season’s final stretch in plain sight, conversations between coaches are often the same.
“When you see other coaches out on the road recruiting at this time of year, the first question guys usually ask each other is, ‘How much are you practicing?'” Indiana assistant Rob Judson said. “It’s a balance. You want to keep an edge, but yet, you want to stay fresh.”
With four regular season games remaining, and their postseason direction uncertain, the Hoosiers sought to use their past six days for dual purposes.
On one hand, the open weekend allowed for ample time for this flawed team to focus on fixing itself.
On the other, it afforded a chance to step away — albeit briefly — from the noise of a season headed in the wrong direction.
“I thought we balanced pretty good,” Judson said. “We had a couple days of edge and a couple days of balance. We’re hopeful our guys will feel fresh going into this ball game.”
In Tuesday’s 9 o’clock game at Iowa, Indiana has yet another opportunity to put its best foot forward and stop a skid that has had the Hoosiers sliding off course for nearly a full month.
IU has won only once — a triple-overtime victory over Penn State — since beating Michigan State, 82-75, in its most impressive conference win of the season on Jan. 21. All told, the Hoosiers have lost four in a row, including six of the past seven games since dispatching the Spartans.
IU point guard Josh Newkirk said the six-day layoff between last week’s one-point loss at Minnesota and tonight’s visit to Iowa City allowed the Hoosiers to recharge and refocus.
“It gave us a chance to get better, work on some things that we need to work on (and) refresh our bodies,” Newkirk said. “It definitely helped.”
The last time Indiana visited Carver Hawkeye Arena, it left with the Big Ten title in hand. There’s not nearly as much at stake this time around, but a win would supply some much-needed confidence to a group that needs it.
It would also help the Hoosiers in terms of Big Ten Tournament seeding.
Although seedings are far from cemented with two weeks remaining in the regular season, Indiana would enter the conference tournament as a No. 11 seed if proceedings were to begin today. That would mean a first-day appearance against the No. 14 seed, which in this case, would be Rutgers.
Like Indiana, Iowa has struggled of late.
The Hawkeyes have dropped three in a row, including a double-overtime defeat at Minnesota and a home loss to Illinois on Saturday evening. This is a rebuilding season in Iowa City, where senior Peter Jok has served as the lone constant for Fran McCaffery’s bunch.
Jok has scored 25 points or more in nine games this season, and ranks fourth among players from Power 5 conferences with 20.4 points per game. He’s also eighth nationally in free throw accuracy (.915) and is second behind IU’s James Blackmon Jr. with 2.6 3-pointers per game.
“First, you start with Peter Jok, who’s one of the top scorers in the Big Ten,” Judson said. “He can score inside, he can score outside. he’s definitely a threat from anywhere on the court so we’ll have to do a really, really good job with him. Then, their point guard (Jordan) Bohannon, has been playing at a high level. He shoots very well from 3, so we’ll have to make sure we contest those shots.
“The last game, their inside play really came along. (Tyler) Cook, the freshman, had a really good game inside. They’re an inside-outside team, so we’ll have to be ready on both those fronts defensively.”
Cook (11.7 ppg), Bohannon (9.2 ppg) and Cordell Pemsl (9.0 ppg) — each of whom are true freshmen — join Jok as Iowa’s top scoring threats.
Pemsl (.607) is tied with Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ for the best field goal percentage among Big Ten players, while scoring in double figures 12 times.
And after Iowa leaned on a pair of upperclassmen in Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons to run its offense last season, Bohannon has done well in taking over. Bohannon is averaging 4.4 assists per game, and is second on the team in free throw accuracy (.833) and 3-pointers made (59).
After the 75-74 loss in Minneapolis last week, the Hoosiers now need wins to avoid a total derailment of their season. Of the season’s final four games, tonight’s matchup with the Hawkeyes, along with this weekend’s senior night tilt against Northwestern and the season finale at Ohio State, appear as winnable games.
Given some time to step away and recharge, Indiana is looking to rebound with a win tonight.
“Their attitudes have been very high,” Judson said. “We just gotta try to keep having them (function) with a narrow focus (and) keep it one possession at a time with the fundamentals and the coverages we have to have to be successful.”